Trees

I’ve been thinking about trees. That’s probably because they figure largely into the story I’m working on now. The more I reflect, the more I become convinced that trees may well be our single most significant (natural) connection to the numinous. I say “natural,” because our other connection is books–or, more accurately, stories–which is a link we humans have made. But trees are there all around us, shading us and whispering to us, breathing out oxygen to make our air sweeter, and beautifying our landscape . . . and perhaps their gifts to us only begin there. Walk with me, if you will, as I expound my theory.

I’m going to quote from Hope Mirrlees in Lud-in-the-Mist. She’s talking about a “pleached alley” here, which is a path between two rows of trees, with the trees all intertwined and roofing the road over, so that you have a shady tunnel. Here’s the quote:

“There was also a pleached alley of hornbeams.

“To the imaginative, it is always something of an adventure to walk down a pleached alley. You enter boldly enough, but soon you find yourself wishing you had stayed outside — it is not air that you are breathing, but silence, the almost palpable silence of trees. And is the only exit that small round hole in the distance? Why, you will never be able to squeeze through that! You must turn back . . . too late! The spacious portal by which you entered has in its turn shrunk to a small round hole.”

To pass into the trees is to enter the realm of magic, mystery, and things beyond us. Is it any wonder that trees are so prominently placed in the cosmologies of so many peoples throughout history? Norse mythology tells of Yggdrasil, the World Tree, which supports and is itself the pathway among all the realms of gods, giants, monsters, and men. The Ragnarok, the end of the Universe, happens when Yggdrasil is eaten through by its enemies and comes crashing down.

Judaism and Christianity look back to Eden: the one time when the world was perfect was when the first man and woman lived in a Garden, and at the Garden’s very center were two trees. Trees sustained the lives of Adam and Eve by providing fruit for their food.

For a cultural anthropology class in college, we read a book about the Grand Valley Dani of New Guinea. A belief of the Dani people that I’ve never forgotten is that the human race was made from trees that were brought to life — trees given animation, eyes, and hands.

It’s often said by Christian scholars that all peoples throughout history have arrived at parts of the Truth; if you live in this world and look around and think, it’s nearly impossible to avoid figuring out some of it, even without divine revelation. And one thing that almost everyone “gets” is that trees are extremely sacred.

Then I began to think about trees and fantasy fiction . . . particularly, how trees relate to the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. There’s so much to be explored there that I wondered this evening if any scholarly research has been done on the subject. Seriously — someone should write a thesis or dissertation on Tolkien’s Trees. [Nicholas? Has it been done?]

In one real sense, I believe it was trees that drew me first to read Tolkien’s books. I remember illustrations in fairy tale books from when I was very young — enchanting pictures of the deep, dark forests in which various protagonists were either lost or out cutting wood. And when I saw the Ballantine editions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings — those marvelous paperbacks whose covers bore illustrations by Tolkien himself — I knew I had to read them. It was the very same stuff from those childhood pictures that had captured my imagination. The Hobbit‘s cover was Bilbo riding his barrel down the River Running, gliding beneath those gorgeous, fantastic trees. The Two Towers had that picture which is probably my favorite of all Tolkien’s artwork, because it’s all trees, nothing but trees! Yes, it has two tiny figures down in the corner . . . figures who are, depending on which of Tolkien’s notes you believe, either Merry and Pippin in Fangorn Forest or Beleg and Gwindor in Taur-na-Fuin. (Tolkien adamantly resisted drawing clear or up-close pictures of his characters, because he wanted to leave them to the reader’s imagination: but he had no compunction about drawing his trees in every loving detail!)

So, then: Tolkien’s books, I say, are a journey from tree to tree to tree! That’s what drew me in, because I already knew as a child that trees were the real things: trees were the door-posts of Faerie. My favorite part in The Hobbit is the journey through Mirkwood. There are times even now when I think about Mirkwood and can still get that shivery, watery sense of delight in my lower chest that we feel all the time as kids but so rarely do in later years. You know the feeling I mean, right? Mirkwood and Fangorn and the Old Forest can still do that for me.

The Lord of the Rings — what is more beautiful and tree-filled than the descriptions of Lothlorien? But let’s go deeper still: the story begins and ends with a tree. Right? Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday party takes place beneath the Party Tree, the symbol of all that is good and wholesome and stolid and warm and homey and peaceful and comfortable about the Shire. And at the end of the book, the terrible cutting down of that Party Tree is the last straw: that’s the signal that the world is irrevocably changed, that the wounds sustained in this vale of tears will not be healed on this side. It’s the sight of that tree cut down that brings Sam to tears.

The Silmarillion, with its Two Trees of Valinor: like Eden, that was the one time when the world was perfect and right, when those Two Trees gave their mingled light. It’s their light, mind you — the light of trees — that’s in the silmarils.

Back to LOTR: Gondor has its White Tree. When it withers, the realm is in deepest trouble.

What shows us that Mordor is the land of evil? What’s the one thing that Mordor has none of? Yup. No trees.

What does Saruman do when he goes bad? He takes down the trees. Then the trees take him down, when Birnham Wood comes to Dunsinane, or . . . something like that.

And that brings us to the Ents. The Ents are “Earth-born, old as mountains,” second in antiquity only to the Elves. Treebeard refers to “young Master Gandalf” and “young Saruman down at Isengard.” [I love how Celeborn addresses Fangorn as “Eldest.” Man, that gives me goosebumps!] Ents are the shepherds of trees — tree-herders. Think of the implications of that. The function of these ancient sentient creatures in Tolkien’s world is to look out for the trees. It’s as if Tolkien meant the Ents to be representatives of the Earth itself.

My favorite Dr. Seuss book is The Lorax (and not just because of the Onceler). It’s for all sorts of reasons that tug at the dreamer’s heart: the fact that there’s a crumbling platform out at the end of town, overgrown by grass, which is all that remains to show where the Lorax stood, and from where he was “taken away” (by lifting himself into the sky by the seat of his pants) . . . but most of all, the fact that the Lorax “speak[s] for the trees.”

So, then, here are some of my tree memories:

I grew up on Old Oak Road, right, named for its abundance of ancient oak trees? I think I’ve told this story on this blog before, but near as we can figure from a perusal of very old maps, Abraham Lincoln himself may well have passed within sight of where my house now stands, as he rode along on his 8th Judicial Circuit route from Allenton (now vanished) to the up-and-coming little hamlet of Taylorville. And if he did, then it’s likely he looked right at the two trees that shaded my front yard when I was a kid. They would have been younger in Lincoln’s day, but they would have been there: oaks live a long time and grow slowly. Perhaps the lanky young lawyer even rested beneath one and drank from his bottle of Gatorade.

What impressed me about those oaks as a kid was how they harbored a whole other world up in their crowns, 20, 30, 40 feet above the ground — a world of limbs and leaves that I could glimpse from afar, but could never reach. (Isn’t it that precise longing for the misty realm on the horizon that has always fueled our romances? Avalon . . . Lyonesse . . . Mu . . . Lemuria . . . Shangri-La . . . Atlantis. . . .) The world was always there, always visible at the top of my tire swing’s chain. I climbed up that chain more than once — all the way up, scraping my bare feet, painting them orange with rust — I climbed up and clung for a moment to the earth-most giant limb of that world of squirrels and birds. But even I had the sense to go no farther, for it would likely have been the death of me.

There was a hole at the base of that oak tree, one of those little caves that often form in old trees. I imagined wee folk who lived inside the trunk in many-storied mansions. I used to go out with a lantern and look for them on Midsummer’s Eve. (You think I’m kidding, but I’m not.)

There was a willow tree in our north yard that my nextdoor neighbor and I used to climb. It had a friendly array of branches that were like a basket for holding little kids who wanted to play above the yard. That tree was like a Phoenix: its trunk snapped completely off at ground level during an ice storm, and my parents thought that was the end of it. But the whole tree grew again from the stump.

I had a reading grove in the northwest corner of the front yard. I’d sit in a lawn chair and put my feet in the fork of a young oak tree that is not so young now. I remember writing a lot of The Threshold of Twilight there and reading a lot of Stephen R. Donaldson. My good dog Hooper is also buried in that grove.

I remember gazing always at that great wall of oaks to the south of our property (see the aerial photo in the previous posting). It was a mighty, rolling green cliff, full of twilight caverns signifying mystery. That, to me as a boy, was the rampart of Mirkwood.

To the south of our place along the road there was a gigantic oak that I always called the Silhouette Tree. Apparently “silhouette” was a word I learned early on and especially loved, and I’d point to that tree at sunset and use the word. (That tree has just been cut down in the past year–I noticed it gone the last time I was there.)

In the middle of the field between my neighbor’s house and mine was another old, gigantic tree. We used to play there, building secret little clubhouses around its base. It was especially nice when the field was in corn, and we had to pass through the whispering stalks to get there, its towering height guiding us as a landmark as we navigated toward it, and the field shutting out all the world. My dad always cautioned us to be careful, that a lone tree in a field could indicate the site of a long-vanished homestead, and thus that there might be an abandoned well somewhere in its shadow, perhaps covered by a now-rotted layer of boards. (My dad was among the greatest worriers in human history.) That always added to the charm for us, that at any moment the ground might collapse beneath our feet. We used to prod and search and hope for that long-lost well, but with no success.

Mom had a grape arbor, and the vines quested out and climbed a maple tree at the back corner of the tin shed. In the arbor’s heyday, the tree itself was full of grapes. It was a grape tree. My nextdoor neighbor and I used to sit up there, high above the world, and eat them.

And here’s a story for you: at my grandma’s house in town, there was a birch tree. During a storm, the trunk shattered, and the tree was left leaning over the street and sidewalk. The trunk was completely severed, so it had to be cut down. Grandma enlisted me and all the neighborhood kids to do the job. That will forever remain as a “photograph of the heart”: there we all were, a scruffy, barefoot kid on just about every limb, each equipped with a saw, a hatchet, or a pair of clippers. Many of us were vigorously sawing through the limbs between ourselves and the bole. Every so often a kid would plummet earthward with a shriek. And down on the ground, there was the biggest boy in the neighorhood, methodically sawing through the trunk with the biggest saw. We all lived, and none of us were hurt.

So, dear readers — tell us your tree stories! Did you have a treehouse? Did you climb trees, maybe with a book in your pocket? Did you have a secret clubhouse sheltered by tree branches? If so, take us all there, so that those worlds may live again!

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22 Responses to “Trees”

  1. Chris Says:

    Nice memories of trees. My years of climbing trees with you around our houses came in handy later in life. I was at a party in college when some folks had found their way up to the top of a shed in the back yard. I deftly climbed the nearby tree (using the technique we used on the white oak in my backyard) and I was up on the roof with these folks. They were duly impressed never having seen me climb trees ever.

    I still look at trees with an eye toward figuring out how to climb them even though my age now precludes that level of confidence.

    I think tree climbing is a game best undertaken by people who cannot conceive of falling. Young people.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      I don’t know how I managed to forget a mention of that white oak in your yard! That was one of the best trees! You had that great swingset down below it, but somehow we always preferred the tree. That was the best place ever to hang around on branches and talk about cool things. (As I think about it, a lot of what we did up there was reciting from memory various movie scripts and comedy routines. . . .)

      There was a lot that we did only because we had no real concept of the dangers.

      Yes, I still do that, too: “Nice tree! Now, let’s see, to get up there, first I’d. . . .”

  2. Jedibabe Says:

    What a wonderful “Ode to Trees” you have written, Fred! I too have quite an affinity for trees, though I lacked the personal roots to have a long lasting relationship to any one tree. Perhaps because of this, trees to me have always represented a refuge from the world.

    My earliest personal magical place was a tree cavern my father carved for me out of a grove of manzanita on our property at the edge of the Cleveland National Forest in San Diego. manzanitas are actually shrubs rather than trees, and they possess a lovely exfoliating reddish bark. As a child I actually tasted this bark to see if it might possibly be the chocolate it so looked like! Though it tasted nothing like it looked, I still see chocolate tress when I look upon a manzanita. My father cleared the undergrowth out from this particular grove, I would spend many hours with our dogs in that shady, private alcove, imagining fantastic tales.

    Just the fact that this particular property was covered with relics of the Native Americans who lived there long before we did and was also bordered by an old growth oak forest gave it a mystical feel. As we typically lived so far out in the toolies that there was seldom children to play with, made the animals my playmates and the forest my personal kingdom. My pony was as mystical a guide as I can imagine having in “real life” and we had our favorite trees for destinations we would ride to. Once there we would hang out, I’d do a bit of climbing, just to be neighborly with the tree, and then head off in some other direction until dinnertime.

    My little brother would climb the big pine out in the drive way and, waving in the wind at the tippy top of that 50 foot tree, call to my poor mother to come and see what a feat he had performed. No amount of her coaxing, pleading or threats could keep that child out of the very flimsy top of that tree, where he could feel the wind all about him, like a bird.

    I first visited the Redwoods of central California with a church youth group. Those humongous, behemoth trees truly altered my perception of our world. I think one of the reasons I am such a supporter of habitat preservation and environmental issues is because of my several days of youth spent among those sheltering giants. Though I knew none of them personally, each of them impacted my heart to the point that today I still feel responsible for their well being. When I read the book “The Legacy of Luna” by Julia Butterfly Hill I expected to find the story of a nutty hippy that spent two years living in one of the giants, but instead I found I really understood what would cause a person to do just what she did to save a being 600 years old. Trees have that sort of power over us, if we surrender ourselves to it.

    Trees are powerful symbols of the nurturance of the earth. In my landscape architecture history class we discussed trees serving anciently as axis mundi, or cosmic center of the world, serving as connectors of heaven, earth and the underworld. Maybe that’s it. Trees remind us that we are all connected. They serve us, and we are bound to support them, if we hope to continue ourselves. In a world that frequently tells us humanity is all powerful, tress remind us of our connection to all life, that we’re all in this together.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      The manzanita cave sounds excellent! I love these stories you tell here — your brother up in the pine, and riding your pony to various tree landmarks! Seriously: you had every kid’s American dream! Doesn’t every kid sigh and say, “I wish I had a pony!”?

      It’s a dream of mine to see the Redwoods someday. Now I’d like to read The Legacy of Luna. I wonder if it’s still in print. . . .

      Thank you for a beautifully-written comment — including your well-stated conclusions. Total agreement!

  3. fsdthreshold Says:

    Mea culpa! My apologies for the grievous error in the original draft of this posting! (I wonder how many of you were biting your tongues, trying to figure out how to say, politely, “You’re 100% wrong.” Please don’t hesitate the next time I am! This time, I caught the mistake myself, but I’m sure I won’t always catch them.)

    I erroneously said the Ents were on Earth before the Elves. That’s simply not true. The words of “Learn now the lore of living creatures” haunted me until I realized my mistake!

  4. I, too, love trees Says:

    “Elves began it, of course,” Treebeard said, “waking us up and teaching us to talk. The first elves were like that; wanting to talk to everything. They cured us of dumbness, and that is a gift that cannot be forgotten.”

    Gandalf tells Theoden that, when he speaks with Treebeard, he will be speaking with the oldest of all living things.
    This must preclude himself, of course, as Gandalf was a Maiar. But think of it — Tolkien scholars estimate Galadriel as 10,000 yrs old at the time of LOTR, yet Treebeard is older!

    In Quenta Silmarillion Yavanna boasts to Aule that Eru had been merciful and allowed her to create the Shephards of the Trees, and that Aule’s sons (the Dwarves; and I suppose, the other mortal races) would have to be wary about using their axes against the right tree, to which Aule replies “Nevertheless, they will have need of wood.”

    And THAT draws me to the various uses of trees: oxygen, shade, habitat, fruit and, yes, wood. Who can fogret Shel Silvertsein’s children’s book masterpiece “The Giving Tree” about a boy and a tree? PLEASE read it if you have not.
    I read to the kindergarten and first grade classes at our local catholic school once a month and “The Giving Tree’ and the lessons we draw from it are favorites every year.

    Apple trees were big in my youth. When I lived at 722 Haner my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Herzog, lived across the street and had two apple trees in her front yard. You can guess the rest.
    Later, a grade school classmate of Fred and I (Peter Hill) had three enormous apple trees in his back yard on Cleveland St.
    North School (K-6) had a row of apple trees along the west edge of the playground, and hours and hours of fun were had after school climbing them, firing fallen apples up into the branches to dislodge others, etc…
    Peter and I once took a little garden spade and planted dozens of seeds. Two sprouted, but were killed as 3-4 yr. saplings in an ice storm in 1980 when we were in 8th grade and attending the junior high, which was just across the street from the trees in question. It was a sad moment, walking down to the school and seeing the saplings felled.

    I can see in my mind’s eye the places Fred and Chris discussed. I remember eating the grapes that appeared to grow from the ‘grape tree’ and can still recall my first visit to Fred’s reading corner where the noble and beloved Hooper rests. (Hooper was everyone’s favorite dog who did not own a dog themselves. He was greatly loved by our Dn’D group — by me, in especial, if I may say so — and Fred could probably write one heckuva post on Hooper’s antics and stories about The Thief of Newtons)

  5. fsdthreshold Says:

    Thank you, “I, too, love trees,” for that wonderful comment! It brings me considerable comfort to know that I had good reasons for being confused in my memory (remember, everyone, I haven’t re-read LOTR since high school at the latest!) — because whereas the Elves were “eldest of all,” Treebeard is the oldest living character present in those scenes — that’s where my error came from.

    Yes! I have read The Giving Tree and love it!

    I’d forgotten there was a time when you lived on Haner Street! I certainly remember Mrs. Herzog!

    I also have great memories of those trees along the edge of the North School playground, though I think that’s a separate posting in itself! But weren’t they crabapples? I remember the apples as being tiny and sour . . . but maybe that’s just because they weren’t ripe yet.

    Yes, good old Hooper! It’s possible that his bloodline is continuing somewhere, because he and Ginger had at least one puppy, Nannerl (sister of Constanze) that we gave to someone. If Nannerl ever had puppies, there may still be some grandchildren or great-grandchildren of Hooper sitting on car roofs and claiming people’s Fig Newtons for their own.

  6. SwordLily Says:

    Those giants of life and wisdom have always been special to me but living in New York makes it hard to find a good tree.
    Despite this sad truth I’ve got at least one tree story: For my birthday every year my Family and I go out to see the flowers of spring. My favorite part of this is viewing the cherry blossoms. Standing under those graceful ladies of spring with their blossoms raining down like heaven falling from the sky, I feel lucky just to be there seeing such a miracle. They say Sakura trees are the entrance-ways to the spirit world and you have to be careful around them especally when they blossom. I love this superstition and always keep my eyes open for wandering spirits under the pink and white blossoms of the Sakura trees.
    When I touch a tree I can feel a life that is old and steady. Unlike flowers whose lives are short and bright the existence of a tree is long and deep, like shady pools in the middle of forgotten corners of forests. One of my dreams is to find such a pool, where the trees are so close all the light is filtered in shades of green and the old magic is so thick in the air the world seems a million years away. I don’t even know if such places still exist in this world anymore. But a girl can dream, right?

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      What a beautiful comment, SwordLily! Thank you!

      Yes, there certainly is an otherwordliness to the cherry trees in blossom. (And what a great thing to do with your family on your birthday! Those are the things we remember all our lives.)

      That’s a wonderful description of the forest pool, too! I think such places still do physically exist in the world. And until you find it “in person,” you can make it live through your writing and/or artwork!

  7. I, too, love trees Says:

    I can see where you would think they were crabapples; I did, too, for a long time. Our neighbor on the corner of Oak and Cherokee was a retired tree surgeon from some Illinois state parks dept. or other, and I clearly recall him telling me that the trees in question were “rare miniature Jonathons”, that they were often mistaken for crabapples and that he was always surprised they ever bore fruit because, he said, over half of that variety ever successfully bloom annually (and thus die) — it is some fluke of the engineering of man.
    He said the trees were actually a gift from someone (he knew; I forget who) who lived in Michigan before moving to Taylorville. Wish I knew more, but, as Bob would say “THIS IS WAY OFF THE SUBJECT!”

  8. Chris Says:

    I miss trees. Here in SoCal we get a few scrubby trees, almost none of which are actually native (it is a semi-desert), and for some reason I really dislike palm trees. I mean I can’t stand the look of them.

    The other popular tree here is the eucalyptus which, if memory serves, were planted by the railroad companies back in the late 19th century to serve as rail ties, but I don’t know if they worked out so well for that. They are a fast-growing and immensely ugly tree that looks diseased most of the year.

    The UCSD campus is loaded with them which helps to hide the abomination-style architecture of the campus, but that’s like pasting gorey crime-scene photographs over offensive images so as not to see the offensive images.

    The only place I’ve been that I really loved the lack of trees was Iceland. It was so neat you could survive not seeing any trees.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Really interesting, and hilarious about UCSD’s concept of ornamentation! I’m curious to know what abomination-style architecture looks like — it sounds Lovecraftian! Impossible angles, non-Euclidean geometry? Is there a Cthulhu cult at UCSD?

      Also cool about Iceland. I’ve heard the saying “Iceland is all green, and Greenland is all ice.” Is that true? And if so, Iceland manages to be green without trees, huh?–lots of meadows, grasses, and mosses? It does sound beautiful.

  9. I, too, love trees Says:

    Adams famously wrote “sad, like trees in November.”
    For years I always thought of November’s trees as sad, and maybe they are. Sad because of the loss of warmth, of longer hours in the sun, and sad for their nakedness.
    When I reverted to my faith several years ago I began to take a different approach, perhaps not for November’s trees, but rather for late December’s trees, for early January’s trees.
    I love to take silent walks in the snow amongst the trees and have a favorite haunting ground along the Raccoon River northwest of Perry. The best time is shortly after sundown during a January thaw, when the river is largely unfrozen, but bits of ice remain and snow covers the ground.
    There, under the silvery moonlight, I feel strongly the presence of God and the majesty of His creation.
    And the trees?
    I can almost hear them whispering to each other: In time spring shall come, that only through a type of death can new life arise, that they are old and strong, their roots deep in the soil, their resolution firm, their endurance unmatchable.
    I find a beauty in their nakedness, a splendid wisdom in the simple complexity of their stark branches …

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Now THAT is a beautifully-written comment! Thank you! I’ve always loved that Adams phrase, too. Your amazing description of silent walks among the trees on January nights works equally well for this post and for the next one, about Doorways! Fantasy fiction seems unfairly overweighted toward summer. Thanks for pointing out that winter can be a season of enchantment, too!

      Finally, your mention of what the trees whisper reminds me of the Bible passage about “A seed remains only a seed unless it falls to the ground and ‘dies.’ But if it ‘dies,’ it [produces grain in abundance]. . . .” (Sorry I don’t have the exact wording or the reference.)

  10. Marquee Movies Says:

    I think that I have never read;
    A blog as fun as this by Fred.
    A couple of notes on trees – before Return of the Jedi was made available for home viewing, the only way I could enjoy the story over again was by reading and re-reading the novelization. (Star Wars paperback had a gold cover, Empire was blue, and Jedi was black – each with a great image or collage of images on the front.) The novelization of Jedi had two nice moments after Princess Leia falls off her speederbike on Endor. The book shows that Leia, who has grown up primarily in cities, surrounded by technology (she’s an urban princess!), and who has always had responsibilities, always something to DO – for perhaps the first time in her life, she’s surrounded by nothing but trees, no people, no clear course of action, nothing she can do in this mighty forest. And she actually takes the time to gaze around at the awe-inspiring trees around her, marveling at how mighty and old they are. A second nice novelization moment is after the Ewoks have been convinced not to COOK AND EAT the humans, and those same humans (and 3PO and R2 and Chewie) have to convince the Ewoks to risk their lives, their harmonious existence, everything. Nothing anyone says can change the minds of the Ewoks, who understandably don’t wish to take on the Emperor’s mindless minions. When it seems they are at an impasse, and after a moment of heavy silence, Leia simply says, “Do it for the trees.” And this is what finally convinces them – they are willing to die to honor and protect the trees of Endor.
    Another movie related tree moment – in the house where I grew up, there was a tree growing right outside my window. Thus, in high school, when I went to see the movie Poltergeist, I began to get a very delightful shivery feeling about the tree outside the young boy’s bedroom. There was a large knot on the tree that looked like the profile of an old woman’s face, and when the thunderstorm in the film started, I realized that at some point, that “face” was going to turn and look in the window. I briefly thought of my own tree, and as the thunder and lightning kept getting closer and closer, my thrill of anticipation was – ALL of a sudden, a lightning bolt hit the tree, and THE ENTIRE TREE BEGAN MOVING, AND REACHED INTO THE WINDOW FOR THE LITTLE BOY! It was a truly great moment of terror for me, right up there with many of the famous scenes from Jaws. (Obviously, Jaws is the better film, but for fun scares, Poltergeist has its share. Interestingly, Poltergeist was mostly directed by Spielberg as well.) Anyway – those are my tree/movie stories. For those who were kind enough to comment on my listening to The Hobbit every summer while I work at the family cottage, this past weekend I had to leave Bilbo in the somewhat precarious cave during that awful thunderstorm. True, goblins are about to get him and the dwarves and Gandalf, but for now, he’s out of the rain, and getting just a little shut-eye. Bless him, and God bless the storytellers, and those who love them.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thank you! Excellent, excellent! My hat is off to whomever wrote that novelization and brought some extra twists and highlights to the story. (It’s always seemed to me that if you’re going to re-tell a story in a different format, you ought to make the most of the format you’re using and always look for ways to add dimension and depth.) So Ewoks have more than a little of the Lorax in them! (With some Entishness besides!)

      Ah, Poltergeist! I have fond memories of that film, too! The jack-in-the-box gave me and my nextdoor neighbor an extra dose of fright, because we were also terrified of one of those when we were kids. Also, a member of my D&D group told me that, when he saw the rope scene, with everyone tied together and getting sucked into the other dimension through the closet, he loudly whispered right there in the movie theater: “My D.M. thought of that first!”

      It’s wonderful to hear that Bilbo is having his adventures again! Do you know how many times you’ve read/listened to The Hobbit?

  11. Preacher Says:

    Wow, Fred! You’ve opened up my mind to a flood of “tree memories” and made me long for those days of youth and wonder. I had some great trees when I lived in Hawaii–we had a “forest” in our backyard (OK, so it was actually about ten trees all crammed together in our little bit of lawn, but when I was 10 it was HUGE!) where the trees in front all drooped down to the ground. When you went past those first trees there was a “cavern” made by the surrounding trees that barely let in light it was so thick. I spent many an hour hiding back there in my personal organic clubhouse.

    There was also the row of weeping willows that grew next to the a friend’s fence line so that we had another great hiding place that shielded us from prying eyes. (My best friend at the time brought one of his mom’s cigarettes and we tried smoking for the first time—lots of coughing and wondering why anyone would want to do this!)

    And then there is the special allure of apple trees to me. My wife and I went on our first date to an orchard and that was where I first held her hand as we walked among the rows of trees sagging with large apples. (Sorry for getting mushy!) Now, 15 years later, we still go apple picking every year in honor of that walk.

    And my 4 children from that same wife now climb the tree in our front yard and imagine worlds of adventure for themselves. (While I watch out the window and constantly admonish them to be careful!)

    Ahh, the beauty and power of trees!

  12. fsdthreshold Says:

    Aren’t they wonderful, trees? Thank you, Preacher — beautiful memories! Yes . . . those little groves of our childhoods that seem so huge and substantial at the time, but they may have been only a couple trees and three bushes.

    The last time I was in the States, I was walking my aunt and uncle’s dog, and I came to a culvert in a ditch beside a country road, and for a few moments, I saw it with the eyes of childhood. It’s a rare experience, and I’d never been to that actual place as a child. But in that moment, it seemed to look like how it would have looked to me when I was seven or eight. I imagined myself and a couple friends playing there.

  13. Nick Says:

    Fred: Nick here. Yes, a book has been written that addresses Tolkien’s love of nature, and trees in particular, in detail. I even had occasion to quote from it in my Master’s Thesis. It is by Patrick Curry and it is called _Defending Middle-Earth: Myth and Modernity_.

    Aah, I see by a quick Google search that he has a more recent book that may be even more to the point: _Ents, Elves, and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J.R.R. Tolkien_. I’ll have to hunt that one down.

  14. Nick Says:

    I must make a correction to my previous post: on closer inspection, that latter book is NOT by Patrick Curry. What I’d located on the Net was a review of the book BY Curry (and he is largely critical of it).

  15. mileposter Says:

    Since I was not very good at climbing trees, my favorites while I was growing up were white pines–the branches stuck straight out, and one could ascend as if by a circular ladder. We had a white pine next to our house, and I climbed that, but my favorite was up at the head of our street. It was an older tree, much taller, with really thick branches. I loved climbing that tree, and always dreamed of the time I would return to it, but at some point I stopped. I think it’s still there–must check next time I return to Asheville.

  16. Shieldmaiden Says:

    Some of my earliest memories are of trees. I have always loved that they seem to be somehow wise and powerful and very old… even the young ones. When I was a little child I grew up in a small house in San Diego. Our back yard was pretty big but I hardly played back there, I spent all my time in “the forest” which consisted of a row of ten or twelve bush like trees that touched, or almost touched each other in places and were nothing like a hedge except that they made a perfect wall. They were as tall as our house and grew odd purplish berries that were not very edible, though we did keep trying, and the birds loved them. These trees grew along the property line on the side, with no more than a small alleyways distance between them and the wall of our house. I can still recall every detail of this place that I played endlessly in and was the home of my many imaginary adventures.

    When I was seven my family moved to a small town near San Diego and I traded in my forest for a giant backyard with two huge California Pepper Trees. These trees have gnarly, twisted trunks that aren’t very tall and have very, very long branches, so they are easy to climb in and they provide perfect shade. My father was a big pruner, so over the years we accumulated quite a pile of long branches until finally there were enough of them to make a tee-pee style fort! My four younger brothers and I played in and under these trees for the rest of our childhoods.

    As a child, reading about the trees of Narnia was the first time I’d encountered any trees that behaved the way I knew trees really did. There in this other world, I found trees described the way I had experienced them… with all the magic I knew they held.

    In The Magicians Nephew, Digory Kirk is asked to bring back a silver apple from The Great Tree in Western Wild. After he finds and returns with the apple, he plants it by throwing it on Narnia’s new ground. Where it lands, it immediately grows up and is named The Tree of Protection (this was the same area where the lamp-post also grew and later became known as Lantern Waste, the ancient forest of talking trees). The Tree is filled with star-like silver apples and its branches cast a light rather than a shade. This is the parent tree to the one Digory plants (with the magic rings) in his London backyard, grown from the core of the apple Aslan gave him. It lived and grew into a fine tree, but because it grew in our soil it did not bear apples that were fully magical, but inside itself the tree never forgot that other tree to which it belonged. Sometimes it would move mysteriously, the English trees limbs would sway when there was no wind, in those times it was the Narnia tree rocking in the high winds of a strong gale that blew it.

    In The Wood Between Worlds there is nothing but trees and small pools. The puddles are not more than ten feet from side to side, every few yards for as far as the eyes can reach. The trees in the wood grow close together, and you can almost feel the trees drinking the water up with their roots. These trees are so leafy that you cannot even glimpse the sky. All the light poring in through the leaves is green daylight, bright and warm. It is the quietest wood, almost too quiet; you think you can even hear the trees growing. There is a feeling of timelessness, while you are in this wood between the worlds it feels as if you’ve always been there. It’s not the sort of place where things happen; the trees go on growing… that’s all. This wood is so peaceful that it is hard to really feel frightened while there, it is so dreamy you feel perfectly contented to stay there forever, and it becomes hard to remember there is anything else.

    That is how I have felt at times in our own world while in the woods. Time takes on a new meaning, and it is hard to count the days while in the forests among the trees.

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